Man of Aran  

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Man of Aran is a 1934 Irish fictional documentary (ethnofiction) film shot, written and directed by Robert J. Flaherty about life on the Aran Islands off the western coast of Ireland. It portrays characters living in premodern conditions, documenting their daily routines such as fishing off high cliffs, farming potatoes where there is little soil, and hunting for huge basking sharks to get liver oil for lamps. Some situations are fabricated, such as one scene in which the shark fishermen are almost lost at sea in a sudden gale. Additionally, the family members shown are not actually related, having been chosen from among the islanders for their photogenic qualities.

George C. Stoney's 1978 documentary How the Myth was Made, which is included in the special features of the DVD, relates that the Aran Islanders had not hunted sharks in this way for over fifty years at the time the film was made. Man of Aran is Flaherty's recreation of culture on the edges of modern society, even though much of the primitive life depicted had been left behind by the 1930s. It is impressive, however, for its drama, for its spectacular cinematography of landscape and seascape, and for its concise editing.


Man has to fight for his existence in the Aran Islands. Three men, among them "A Man of Aran", land a flimsy currach in the midst of high winds and huge waves with help from "His Wife" and "Their Son". The Man and his Wife work to make a field on the barren rocks using seaweed and soil scraped out of rock crevices. The Man fixes a hole in his boat with a mixture of cloth and tar. His Son sits on the edge of a cliff and uses a crab he caught earlier as bait to catch a fish in the water below.

The Man, working with four other fishermen in a slightly larger boat than before, harpoons a giant basking shark. They lose that one after a fight and later spend two days wearing another one down before they can bring it back to shore. The whole village comes down to the beach to either watch or to help drag the carcass out of the water. The Wife renders the shark's liver to get oil for the lamps on the island.

More sharks are still passing by on their migration, so the local fishermen head back out to sea, even though the weather looks like it might turn. No one will take the Son with them. There is a storm, and the Wife and Son can only watch from shore while the Man and his two shipmates struggle to get their boat to land safely against the elements. Everyone is reunited, but the Man's boat is crushed by the waves and rocks. The family turns and makes their way back to their cottage.


  • Colman 'Tiger' King as A Man of Aran
  • Maggie Dirrane as His Wife
  • Michael Dillane as Their Son
  • Pat Mullen as Shark Hunter
  • Patch 'Red Beard' Ruadh as Shark Hunter
  • Patcheen Faherty as Shark Hunter
  • Tommy O'Rourke as Shark Hunter
  • 'Big Patcheen' Conneely of the West as Canoeman
  • Stephen Dirrane as Canoeman
  • Pat McDonough as Canoeman


Stung by criticism that British films were flaccid imitations of those being produced in Hollywood, Michael Balcon of Gaumont British hired the acclaimed writer/director Robert Flaherty and his wife Frances (Nanook of the North (1922), Moana (1926), Elephant Boy (1937), The Land (1942), Louisiana Story (1948)) to prove the British film industry’s cultural excellence as well as commercial success. In 1931, Robert Flaherty set up a studio and laboratory facilities on Inishmore, the largest of the three Aran Islands.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Man of Aran" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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